New York

WTC Redesign Wrapup, 2002-2005


I have so little to say about the WTC Master Plan and Building Designs that this will probably be my only post about it.

2002-2005: Daniel Liebeskind does some stuff, which turns out to be completely bogus, because he didn't use any verified facts, including sun angles or security information. In the meantime, he designs some truly hideous buildings to prove he can do it too. David Childs takes over the design of the Freedom Tower so that it can actually get done and be beautiful, and there's some noise about whether it's Liebeskind's design or his. The Master Plan gets really average about the time they unveil the Memorial design, meaning we're approaching urbanism that is less interesting or original than the first WTC. Then security stuff shows up, bizarrely after the project should be in ground, and the tower is going to be redesigned.

Philip Noble, Nicholai Oursoff, and our friends at Curbed seem to be documenting it all rather well. I am particularly drawn to Oursoff's look toward the possibilities in the current breakdown.

But really, who cares about the latest redesign hub-bub? The tower is very average anyway, attempting to be tall and amazing, even though in photos like the one above, you can clearly see that it's a cop-out. It's a phantom building. A symbol of our courage: an outline, a drawing in the air, but nothing we're actually willing to rent space in.

Does anyone remember the New York agency-sponsored urban planning exercises of the last 50 years? Let's take, for instance, the United Nations competition. A star architect's design won it. There was a period of uncertainty, in which time the star architect was completely out of the picture, replaced by a local who did good but not-groundbreaking (but totally buildable, yo) work. And we ended up with the UN, an outline of a Le Corbusier project, but with none of Corbusier inside it. We're lucky to have the UN complex. I'm not saying Liebeskind is anywhere near as talented as Corbusier: an outline of a Liebeskind project will just look dumb.

What I'm saying is that from day one, I never expected anything from the master plan, the one that won or any of the others. Even when I organized a design charette for the WTC site and wrote RFQs for the Master Plan, I knew that this was the game I was playing. I knew that three years later, I'd be looking at a local architect who was really running the show, and waiting for the whole thing to get stirred up with local politics until at some point someone built something, whatever that may be.

Pratt Architecture School Nearly Done Nine Years After Fire


Nine years after a fire destroyed Pratt Institute's Architecture School (because someone propped open the fire doors), it's nearing completion. Higgins Hall, which houses the Architecture Department at Pratt, is becoming rejoined again by the Central Wing, designed by Steven Holl in 1997. The project is being executed with Rogers Marvel Architects (where I worked from 1997-2004) as the architect-of-record.

I was at Pratt monday for architecture reviews. What astounded me was that none of the critics had toured it, even though it's been under construction for at least a year. The building appears small, crafted, and beautiful. They're rumored to be done in the fall, but no one was clear on "fall" as in "before the fall semester" (aka August) or "sometime before the end of November". Because there aren't a great deal of interior finishes (budget and the program both dictate this) it's entirely possible a late August move-in date is possible. Until then, you'll have to enjoy the renderings and progress photos.

Steven Holl Architects

Rogers Marvel Architects

What Happens When One Flies In From Tokyo To New York And Visits A Museum By A Japanese Architect

A week after coming back from Japan, I was invited by a friend to visit MOMA. It was the Wednesday of the week of opening parties, invitation only. I strode onto 53rd Street it as if I knew where I was going. Once I turned the corner, and approached the building, I realized that I did not know where the entrance was. The entire block had been transformed. Even the original Durrell Stone building had been transformed: it was glowing with its original translucent facade. Everywhere on the block were black cars, women in furs, men in furs, and security guards directing people to their respective lines. It was a big, New York block party.

There were people on the street. Some had tickets. Some were watching. Some did not need tickets. Some were protesting the cost of admission. Everyone wanted in. I did not have a ticket, but Greg did. We didn't need them: we were let in by some friends of some friends. A Rockefeller. The entry cuts through the block, traversing 53rd street to 54th street. One turns off this axis to enter the museum, views the sculpture garden, and then ascends the stair. In short, the sculpture garden has become linked to the public space of the city.

There is always someone in the world who knows the location of the place you're seeking. (I remind you that "place" includes state-of-being.) You may not be close to these people at all. Yet if you find them, an incredibly intimate thing happens when they point you in the direction you wanted. In a way, they show you the future you asked for. It is a succinct demonstration of the situational power people have in each other's lives.

Hearst Tower Revives Interest In Diagonal Living

The Hearst Tower, Norman Foster's only building in Manhattan, is getting its curtain wall. (I'm not counting the fabulous Asprey store, gorgeous but interior). What struck me on the afternoon I took this was how the glass origami crystal candy building appeared like a fantastically alien construction, contrasting brutally with the brown brickness all around it.

The surrounding buildings is a little architectural history microcosm of New York. Below, 19th century brick. It is nice. Therefore, goes 'contextual' architectural thinking, Brick equals Nice. Fast forward through the period of real modernism, of which only a few buildings made it into New York anyway. To the west, late 1960s brick, where one attempts to create a Seagram Building, only...Brick! They demolished the nearby CCC, another white-brick modernist compromise, so we know how that is going to end. To the north, 1980s Multi-Brick, also known as Po-Mo Brick, where one attempts to create a 19th Century Brick building, only using brick (or in this case, metal panels, same diff, yo) in a lot of non-brick like colors and patterns, thus creating a recognizable extension of context for the building,'s completely flat, like a billboard. It's like irony, without the irony.